Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall
Age Range
Release Date
April 21, 2020
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When Thurgood Marshall—the great grandson of a slave—was born, African Americans were denied equal rights in America. Segregation was legal. Lynching was common. In some places, African Americans were entirely excluded from public life; they were forbidden to enter public parks and museums or use public swimming pools and restrooms.

After being denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race, Marshall enrolled at Howard University. He graduated first in his class and set out as a young lawyer determined to achieve equality for all Americans. Here is the story of how he did it—how he devised his legal strategy for expanding “we the people,” to include all people.

Thurgood Marshall explores his life, from his childhood in Baltimore to his trailblazing career as a civil rights lawyer, and finally his years as a United States Supreme Court justice.

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Timely Civil Rights Biography
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
Born in 1908, Thurgood Marshall experienced an array of institutionalized racial injustices in his New York and Baltimore homes, even though his parents were outspoken about race, and his mother strongly supported the NAACP. His father encouraged young Marshall's interest in current events and the law, taking him to hear cases being tried at court. Initially wanting to study to be a dentist because there was a high demand and his mother thought it was a good idea, Marshall enrolled at Lincoln University. After participating on the debate team, he returned to his previous dream of becoming a lawyer. At the time, few law schools accepted Black students, and those that did were too expensive. He ended up studying at Howard Law School,commuting to D.C. from Baltimore by train. After graduation, during the height of the Great Depression, he set up his own law office, where he took many cases on a pro bono basis. In 1935, Marshall took the case of donald Murray, a Black man who wanted to attend law school at the University of Maryland but was told that they did not accept Black students. Marshall won the case, and started on his illustrious career as a Civil Rights attorney, even though he received threatening letters, some from the Ku Klux Klan. He was involved in many school related cases, including Brown v. Board of Education. In 1967, President Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court, where he served until 1991. He died in 1992.
Good Points
Kanefield does a great job at telling the story of Marshall's life, including the state of the world around him. We get just enough background information about his family, his early school experiences, and the state of Black American rights during the early part of the 1900s. Accompanying photographs and primary source documents support the text.

Like other books in this series (including Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony), the book is nicely formatted for the elementary and middle school reader. At just over 200 pages, the text is comfortably readable, the pages well laid out, and the bibliography and selection of Marshall's writing helpful for providing additional information.

Although Kanefield is not Black, the research in this book is solid, and the thread of the challenges Marshall faced throughout his career is well presented. Thurgood Marshall is an excellent book to hand to students who are seeking information not only about individuals, but about the details of their lives during particular periods of history.
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